Minus 34C is darn cold
I recently learnt that when my fingers and toes go numb and white from extreme cold, the re-warming process always involves about three or four minutes of pain - before normal feeling returns. It's pretty unpleasant.
At the end of last year I was filming on location in the Yukon, Northern Canada. The region boasts the lowest record temperatures across the continent of America. Whilst I was there the mercury rarely rose above minus 34C, and since most of my days were outside it was a battle each hour to keep my fingers and toes from freezing up despite my layers; this part of the world is serious frostbite territory. I flew in on a small plane one snowy night in late November; I have never experienced such a deep cold. The land was frozen in snow and ice. However, there were no cancellations or delays and few complaints from the locals. Whitehorse functions perfectly well under such extreme weather conditions; although there are days when it drops below minus 40C and sections of the Dempster Highway close. I learnt how to make a snow shelter or quinzee whilst out there; all the kids in the area learn this as standard at school, it's the norm.
Even a modicum makes for mayhem
It's not that unusual for snow to fall at some point during our winter season here in the UK. The problem is more that it never lingers for any sustained period. So councils and transport authorities can be insufficiently resourced to deal with it, and we don't develop the skills to drive under such conditions, or feel the need to invest in suitable tires or chains. Every pound that is spent has to be weighed against the number of days of disruption by the extreme winter weather. So instead we suffer.
These wintry spells are now more commonly known as 'snow events', and to be honest however little snow we get, varying levels of chaos and drama normally ensue; whether it's traffic disruption, a shortage of grit, growing queues in airports or school closures. The anticipation of such an 'event' makes headline news, but very quickly the excitement of seeing our land transform into a magical white landscape turns to frustration as our lives become highly inconvenienced or worse.
More snow, widespread ice, bitterly cold...
So now, after a week of the white stuff, most of us would prefer the snow to go - so we can get back to our own norm - we may not like it but we do cope with it well - rain and wind.
Before this happens though, the big freeze will stay with us for a little longer. A few more bouts of snow are forecast across the country until Thursday; in Scotland, Eastern England, the West Country and Wales, perhaps the West Midlands and Northern Ireland (keep a keen eye on your local forecast for details). A drier and quieter few days towards the end of the week will allow temperatures to fall even further, and they may not peak above zero by day. Overnight, some spots could hit minus 9C, or even lower. It will feel bitter before the change gradually eases in over the weekend.
Back to what we know; wet and windy
Current charts suggest a change to an Atlantic stream of weather that will arrive through the weekend. It's worth noting that as the rain blows over frozen Britain it could turn to snow for a time - before turning back to rain. Winds will also pick up some strength, and with ice and snow melt there could be a lot of surface water about. The trend beyond this is for it to remain unsettled and less cold.
On the scale of things this wintry weather may be just a transient spell, but it still has potential to cause more problems. So until the mild westerlies kick in properly, it's perhaps worth approaching the next few days with an air of trepidation, an attitude that seems to have worked well for the people of Yukon for generations.